Skip to main content

A war won & a battle lost… When police treated complaint as dispute, not criminal act

By Gagan Sethi*

The ingenious means of exploitation in tradition-bound villages of Bhal of Cambay taluka could well remind you of the feudal system.
One such tradition was of members of so-called upper caste in the area — the Durbars— paying money to members of another caste — Bharwads —to steal bullock carts of any Vankar who had acquired this asset (also a sign of economic and social mobility).
After the initial shock, he would get the message via community elders (called mahetars) that if he needed his cart back, he should visit the durbar who would ask him to pay Rs1,500 to Rs3,000 in return for the cart.
We heard of such an incident on one of our visits to Pandad village where we were to train a youth group in 1980. We told the group they should file a police complaint. The nearest police station being Cambay (now Khambhat), we asked if there isn’t a rule of law. There is, we were told. One has to seek permission of the durbar to go to the police station. After a lot of cajoling and a day of deliberations — discussions were done about consequences of ‘waging war’ against durbars and chances of not being paid for work on the field — one landless youth agreed. His father had recently died and he said there would be no pressure on him.
A dozen of us went to the police station and registered the complaint before a PSI whose first words were “Patayi do ne…. (just settle it).” Since we insisted and there was a man from the city in the group, the complaint was filed and a copy taken. However, it took us the whole day. The news had reached the village ahead of us. The Vankar elders were angry at such a transgression and were planning to apologise on behalf of these “juvaniyas” (youngsters).
We returned after telling the group that if they needed any help, they could get in touch with us. Five days later, when we had not heard anything, we got worried and rushed to the village. Just as we entered, the youth group gathered around us, very excited, “We have won!” they beamed. Asked what the police did, they said “We have withdrawn the case. The durbar has agreed to return a new cart.” We were shocked! “Did you say ‘won’? We have lost the battle!” we cried. They said that it had been proved that the durbar was a thief. Else, why would he have given them a new cart, they argued. “We have won the war. Now it will never be repeated,” they said.
The matter was treated as a dispute and not a criminal act. This blurring of understanding of ‘Rule of Law’ continues till today and many police stations, taluka and district judges support the process of ‘compromise’ even when the act is blatantly criminal.
Many years later, I was part of the drafting committee of nyaya panchayat Act with Dr Upendra Baxi, a renowned jurist. Everything was drafted, complete with provisions of designated space for women and dalits and having the possibility of trained paralegals at the village level to settle disputes under the frame work of the Constitution and separate criminal offences from dispute resolution. The Act was shelved as the then government preferred the Gram Nyayalaya, creating another rung of judiciary. Its day must come!

*Author is founder of Janvikas & Centre for Social Justice. First published in DNA

Comments

TRENDING

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

'Wedding of the century': What does Mukesh Ambani want to prove by such extravaganza?

By NS Venkataraman*  Mukesh  Ambani,   a renowned Indian industrialist who is said to be the richest person in India and  one of the richest persons in the world,   has just now conducted the wedding celebration of  his son in Mumbai,   with unheard level of lavishness in India.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

'28% rise in sedition cases': Top global NGO alliance rates India's civil space 'repressed'

By Rajiv Shah Rating India's civic space as repressed , Civicus, a global civil society alliance, in its new report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the state of civic space in the country has said that the use of sedition law against the Modi government’s critics continues. "Under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sedition cases have increased by 28 per cent with over 500 cases against more than 7,000 people", it says.

How US is using Tibetans to provoke conflict with China 'ignoring' India

By Lobsang Tenzin*  On July 12, US President Joe Biden signed the Resolve Tibet Act, and Tibetans cheered for it, believing that the law promotes a resolution of the dispute between Tibet and China. Is this true? First, let's look at the issue of the ownership of Tibet. 

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.

Tribals from 60 villages observe seed festival to 'protect' diversity of indigenous seeds

By Bharat Dogra*  Nearly sixty villagers are sitting on an open floor covered by a roof for shade but otherwise open on all sides. Women and men are present in equal numbers but the visibility of women is higher because of their colorful dresses.

Misleading ads 'manipulate, seduce, lure' to market unhealthy harmful food

By Our Representative  The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) in its new report “50 Shades of Food Advertising” has sought to expose how seductive, luring, manipulative or deceptive these advertisements can be. Consequences of such advertising are increased intake of unhealthy food products that is associated with obesity and diabetes, it says.